Transhumanist Imagination

transhumanist imagination

Alexandra Grieser


"Free your mind, enhance your spirit: Optimization as religion without salvation”


University of Groningen



Abstract: The point of this discussion statement is not to label any cultural phenomenon a pseudo-, surrogate, or worldly religion. Rather it questions how humans give meaning to the fast changes and dramatic options science and technology brings about, especially concerning practices which Foucault called "technologies of the self". Where do they take the narratives, interpretive models and guiding principles from by which they decide how to deal with options to enhance the brain or tune the body? Optimization is one of these guiding principles, however, what is meant by "the optimum" is only partially a matter of evidence, but rather subject to world-views and ideological framing. For a long time, religions were the main providers of such interpretive frameworks. They offered ideals, motifs and ways to imagine beyond the empirical realm, be it by a non-material existence after death, or a state of being devoid of all suffering or negativity. Taken over by many enlightenment thinkers, particularly the idea of linear improvement and a spiral of endless amplification are still fuelling our cultural imagination. So for trans-humanist concepts as well as for the many concrete decisions to be made today, dynamic shifts between the religious and the secular can be observed, secular technologies promising to erase the overall need for transcendent salvation, and religions finding themselves in the role of critics, providing alternatives to the optimization society. Paying attention to aesthetic expressions rather than argumentative or cognitive patterns only, it will be shown what semiotic ideologies go along with the principle of optimization, and how between rational balancing and salvific hopes a "religion without salvation" makes an important model to deal with today's man-made complexity.